Have you ever felt hurt or manipulated by someone and you’re not sure what really happened? And when you finally realize you’re being used, you feel like it’s too late and your sense of self is gone. If so, you’re not alone and you came to the right place.
One, Love-Bombing: Love-bombing is when someone showers you with a lot of attention, affection, and compliments very quickly. They make you feel like you’re the most special person in the world. They might text you all the time, buy you gifts, and constantly tell you how amazing you are. It can feel really nice at first because it seems like they care about you a lot.
But here’s the catch: Love-bombing is often not genuine. It’s a tactic that they use to gain control over you or manipulate you. They want you to become emotionally attached to them, so they can influence your thoughts and actions later on.
Two, Hot and Cold: Now that they’ve buttered you up, they will use the “Hot and Cold” tactic, also known as trauma bonding, to gain control and power over you. By alternating between intense affection and emotional withdrawal, they keep you on your toes. It’s like when they’re incredibly kind and friendly one moment, and the next moment, they become as cold as ice, almost like they’re ignoring your existence. For example, they ghost you, leave you on ‘read,’ disappear out of nowhere, and then they come back and give a vague, plausible explanation of why they went MIA, like “sorry my phone died” or “I was busy”. The goal is to keep you constantly guessing about how they’ll act. It leaves you feeling anxious, always craving their approval and attention. It’s basically a sneaky way to make you super dependent on them, and it can really mess with your head.
Three, Intermittent reinforcement: Intermittent reinforcement is when you don’t always get a reward for something you do. Just like gambling, it’s the ‘surprise factor’ that makes you keep trying, hoping for a big win. It’s the reason why some things feel so interesting or addictive – it’s like a little mystery that keeps you hooked! But this becomes toxic when it’s applied to relationships because when someone uses intermittent reinforcement in relationships, it means they’re being nice one minute and mean the next. You’ll never know what you’ll get every time because their reactions appear to be too “random”… on purpose.
You might be thinking, wait a minute, isn’t this the same as “Hot and Cold”? Fair enough, both of these tactics have a similar goal of making you depend on their attention. But in ‘Hot and Cold,’ they play with your emotions, making you happy one moment and anxious the next, alternating pain and pleasure. With ‘Intermittent Reinforcement,’ it’s more like a surprise game where they want you to keep trying to impress them, fawn over them, and ultimately, you do more and more and more favors for them… just to win the jackpot, AKA, their affection and approval. In the end, it’s all about making you a bit like a slave to them, doing whatever they want you to do, as you become more and more reliant on their attention. “You might get the jackpot, you might not, but keep trying…” Both tactics are NOT okay, so keep an eye out for them.
Okay, speaking of making you “win” their approval, this brings us to point number…
Four, The Judge Seduction: This is when someone tries to make themselves seem superior or like the “cool” one, making you work hard for their approval. It’s like they put THEMSELVES on a pedestal and expect the other person to constantly prove themselves. How do they do this? Oh… there are LOTS of ways… Here are just a few. Canceling plans last minute or even forgetting about them entirely, makes you feel like they have better things to do. Or, they flirt with other people in front of you or on social media, as if they have a never-ending line of admirers. Or, when you talk about your thoughts and feelings, they might act disinterested or dismissive, as if they’re above caring about your concerns. Oh, and the most common one, they might take hours or even days to reply to your texts, making you feel like your messages aren’t important to them.
Five, Triangulation and Competition: This is when the manipulator brings in someone else to make you feel like you have to compete for their attention and affection, stirring up jealousy and insecurity. For example, they compare you with their exes or another potential romantic partner, they might say things like, “My ex always knew how to surprise me with the most extravagant gifts. I miss that.” or “Dave is a fitness guru with a six-pack abs and ran marathons. I admired that.” By doing this, they’re hoping to make you feel like you have to compete for their attention or affection, creating a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty in the “situationship”. It’s like turning dating into a contest, which is extremely toxic and harmful.
Six, The “Harmless” Rejection: Let’s say you’ve been seeing each other for a while, you asked them how they feel about you and they tell you they like you, but they “can’t be with you right now”. They might give you a vague reason like, “You’re too good for me,” “I need to work on myself,” “I’m not ready for a relationship,” or “I prefer to be single, but I like you.” This is incredibly toxic and manipulative. Why? Because they want to keep you in a state of insecurity and dependence so that they have power and control over you. In more malicious cases, they want to keep you as a backup while pursuing other options, all while avoiding taking responsibility for their feelings and actions.
Seven, Breadcrumbing: This is when someone leaves a trail of ‘breadcrumbs’ to keep you interested in them, but they don’t really want a serious relationship. They might send you occasional flirty texts or snapchats, or they’ll ‘like’ your social media posts and maybe even say they want to hang out. But when it comes to making real plans or committing to something more meaningful, they always seem to have an excuse or back out. It can be really confusing because they give you just enough attention to keep you interested, but they’re not really looking for a serious relationship. Breadcrumbing can be hurtful because it can make you feel like you’re being strung along or used for someone else’s entertainment.
Eight, Guilt-trip: Let’s say you’ve figured out their tricks and decided to create healthy boundaries or move on. That’s when they start using guilt trips as their last resort to keep you under their control and playing the victim card. For example, they may bring up the sacrifices they claim to have made for you. They’ll often exaggerate or even fabricate these sacrifices to make you feel indebted. They say things like, “I’ve given up so much for you, and this is how you repay me?” If that doesn’t work, they may also exaggerate their own misery and distress, making the target feel responsible for their well-being. They might say, “I can’t go on without you,” or “You’re my only source of happiness.” If all else fails, they will temporarily withhold affection, attention, or love, making you feel like you need to “earn” it back through compliance. Don’t fall for it. Delete. Unfriend. Block and move on. You deserve so much better.
OUTRO: So, what are your thoughts on these dark manipulation tactics? Have you ever encountered them before? Let us know in the comments below. We hope you’ve learned a lot about how to recognize and protect yourself from these toxic behaviors.
Remember, knowledge is power, and the more you understand these tactics, the better equipped you are to spot them when they arise. Healthy relationships are built on trust, respect, and open communication, not mind games or manipulation. Don’t ever feel like you have to tolerate these behaviors in a relationship. You deserve to be treated with kindness, respect, and honesty. If you encounter someone using these tactics, it’s crucial to set your boundaries, have open conversations, and if necessary, distance yourself from unhealthy relationships. Thanks for watching, and take care of yourselves out there. Your well-being and happiness are what truly matter.
Feel like you’re being led on? It might be ‘Breadcrumbing.’ (2021, February 12). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/relationships/breadcrumbing
Arabi, S., MA. (2019, March 31). Narcissists Use Trauma Bonding and Intermittent Reinforcement To Get You Addicted To Them: Why Abuse Survivors Stay. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/recovering-narcissist/2019/03/narcissists-use-trauma-bonding-and-intermittent-reinforcement-to-get-you-addicted-to-them-why-abuse-survivors-stay
Clinic, C. (2023, December 22). What is love bombing? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/love-bombing
Choosing Therapy. (2024, February 20). 9 Narcissistic Manipulation Tactics & How to deal. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/narcissistic-manipulation-tactics/